Expeditions vs. Trips

Definition of trip


What is the difference between a trip and an expedition? I had a prolonged heated discussion with Leon from Body Boat Blade about this finite, maybe even niggling point. What is a trip and what is an expedition? The definition listed above might explain it. But from a semantic view is there a difference?

Could you make a point that there are no expeditions, just trips. What makes an expedition an expedition, vs. someone just going on a trip. Maybe it is my midwestern humility that makes me feel like bloated wanker if I say I am going on an expedition, vs. “Hey I am going on a trip.”

When we picture expeditions, do we picture a long protracted affair with pith helmets, Sherpas, (or subjugated aboriginal peoples) carrying our divan and priceless china and crystal set to a remote location where we shoot at endangered wildlife and drink 20 year old scotch as the sun sets? Picture Sydney Pollack’s film Out of Africa with Robert Redford.

Expedition or Trip?

Or do we picture a simple affair with friends deciding to see the local coast from the water? Pack some food, tents and gear to make it work in the near wilderness for a week or two.

Leon mentioned that Nigel Dennis referred to all of his journeys as expeditions, no matter the length or place they were undertaken. So if he had three groups on the water, he would say, “I have three expeditions out today”. It sounds kind of breezy and fun when you say it like that.

This leads to the real question, what makes an expedition an expedition? Is it distance? Is it exposure? Is it risk? Is it a purpose? Is it sponsorship? What is it?

Bryan Hansel of Paddling Light, has also written extensively on this subject, with infographics!

Send us your thoughts.


  1. How about we just call the Pukaskwa trip an “escape from the mind-numbing futility of our daily lives”, and get on with it?

  2. Thanks for the post. It is now clear to me that an expedition involves the 20 year old scotch without a stumble and fall. A trip involves the later without the former and hence Nigel being a Brit can claim all events an expedition! Remember life is about significant memorable moments – the word “expedition” has an exciting connotation and is emotional sounding – the word “trip” is not so memorable nor does it sound special. I, being from the West Coast will go on exciting memorable expeditions and leave the feeling of being a bloated wanker to people who go on “trips”! Was that too strong?

    • Leon,

      I like your idea that life is about those memorable experiences, and that an expedition is more memorable than a trip. It is my mid-western humility that doesn\’t allow me to say expedition without irony. But I may try calling our Pukaskwa \”journey\” an expedition and see how it feels.



  3. I would consider most excursions to fall under the category of “trips” regardless of length, distance, remoteness, sponsorship, or exposure. With all due respect for Nigel Dennis, an “expedition” is a category of trip that has a purpose or task that reaches beyond the members going out for their own enjoyment and/or exploration of an area that is new to them. Lewis and Clark went on an “expedition” because the purpose of their trip was exploration for the benefit of the United States government and science, not just because they wanted to explore it for themselves. Freya Hoffmeister’s circumnavigation of Australia was a “trip”.